Spartanburg is the home of BMW US Manufacturing, where the automaker has been making a variety of models since 1994, including its current run of X3, X5 and X6 utilities (the plant is currently ramping up for the X4 and is slated for X7 production next year). The state-of-the-art facility is the sole assembly plant for the X6, meaning its right- and left-hand drive production is shipped around the globe.
Current X6 owners, or those very familiar with the brand, will have no trouble distinguishing the second-generation crossover from its predecessor. But many, ourselves included, will have a difficult time telling the two apart – even BMW admits that its all-new design is evolutionary, not revolutionary.
A spotter’s guide to identify the new model would point out the more chiseled front end, with a bold grille that nearly tilts forward (recalling BMW’s famed, long-gone “shark nose” treatment). The sides are adorned with gills, dubbed Air Breathers, which are a functional part of the Air Curtains which improve aerodynamics around the front wheels. The rear hatch features a prominent horizontal chrome slat that visually breaks up its expansive surface area.
The X6 again shares platforms with the X5, which was redesigned for the 2014 model year. The basic architecture is a steel unibody, with a heavy mix of ultra-high tensile steel in the structure, thermoplastics front fenders, an aluminum hood and magnesium in the instrument panel support, all of which are incorporated to reduce curb weight and improve balance. The new X6 arrives with more equipment, yet it’s lighter than its predecessor. Diet or no, nobody is going to call this 5,170-pound crossover willowy.
The X6 has always been challenged in terms of utility (BMW didn’t even offer a proper five-passenger version until three years after its launch), and the new model is no different. In fact, the 2015’s rear cargo area is just 20.5 cubic feet (expandable to 53.9 cubic feet with the 40/20/40 split rear seats folded flat). That’s well short of its predecessor’s 25.6/59.7 cubic-feet ratings, let alone the space afforded by the 2015 X5 (23/66). At least the power-assisted tailgate has been programmed to open and close at the touch of a button, and V8 models get a hands-free system, with sensors beneath the rear bumper to detect foot movements, as standard equipment.
Off-road, the X6 is an overachiever – meaning no owner will subject it to the type of mild torture we put it through. Whether traversing a 19-inch deep water trap, climbing and descending steep grades (a new camera on the crossover’s nose takes the white knuckles out of extreme angles) or bounding over boulders, standard xDrive, Hill Descent Control and 8.3-inches of ground clearance make easy work of unpaved surfaces.
Driving the all-new X6 xDrive50i on public roads reveals very few flaws or irritating character traits. The driving position is comfortable, the chassis is vault-solid and wind noise is minimal (BMW’s engineers are deservedly proud of its low 0.32 Cd). Predictably, of course, the ultra-wide tire contact patches do generate road noise which increases or decreases noticeably based on the smoothness of the surface. That said, the X6 is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace in urban and country settings, with occupants coddled inside a very luxurious cabin and the driver content in knowing that sports car potential is but a press of the accelerator away.